It was yet another banner day for C.B. Bucknor behind the plate, as we watched in real time while he lost sense of the strike zone and perhaps indeed any sense of direction at all. The plane which the ball must pass through to be called a strike is imaginary, of course, and tough to judge from a position some three to five feet behind it with a catcher in the way. It must be an even harder task, and one Bucknor makes look impossible, when you picture it to be moving to your whims or those of someone only Bucknor can see, as must be the case.
It is the smugness that has bothered everyone about Bucknor, or Angel Hernandez, or Laz Diaz, or one or two other umps that every baseball fan knows couldn’t identify a splat on a wall much less where a ball passing at 95 MPH with movement was. Bucknor blew this call, and his rush to throw out Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol or his insistence on citing his credentials in the aftermath pretty much gives away the game that Bucknor knows he sucks shit, but also knows he can’t be touched. The way MLB evaluates umps, along with the umpires union, makes it nearly impossible to deposit Bucknor in High-A or to pasture where he belongs.
With all the talk of robo-umps determining balls and strikes (and they are coming), one wonders what our perception of umps remaining to do the same if the likes of Bucknor were simply purged from the ranks. The quality of players keeps rising. Those who throw only 91 or 92 have been left behind, for the most part, for those who throw 102. Hitters who cannot catch up to the new levels of velocity eventually find themselves on the bench and then out of the game. And yet those who officiate, who are supposed to ensure we get the fairest outcome because the rules are adhered to as closely as possible, do not rise along with the players.
Instead we get this, and we get this with the unearned arrogance of being an institution simply because they are there and cannot be moved, not because they have earned it. Joe West was a pimple on the ass of the game for decades, but remained so because he simply could not be removed. Fans hated him. Broadcasters openly bitched about him and made the game actively worse to watch. And yet there was his bloated and indignant sagging visage every summer, simply part of the scenery we couldn’t change as his jowls rippled in the summer breeze.
I have long called for robo-umps, or automatic strike zones, whatever your preferred term. But perhaps I wouldn’t be so passionate if MLB could cut out the bottom of its umpiring class to move the whole thing forward. There are umps out there who get almost all of them right. We don’t hear about them, because you’re not supposed to hear about officials who officiate correctly. It’s how it’s supposed to be.
You can be sure whenever Rob Manfred installs automatic strike zones, and he will, that they will come to pay the umps less as well because, in MLB’s mind, they’ll be doing less. I wonder if the other umps might not cast an evil eye at the likes of Bucknor then. Perhaps not.
But Bucknor’s dismissive and up-his-own-ass glare at Marmol tells us everything we already knew about him. He knows he’s clueless, and he knows there’s nothing we can do about it.
Messi brings everyone up with him
We’ll go out on a couple cool soccer happenings from yesterday. One always suspected, in his prime, that Lionel Messi could score or create goals whenever he wanted to, and he simply let opponents hang around for some measure of time simply to be fair or to entertain himself. Though he may be getting on in years, yesterday for PSG he kind of proved us right:
Of course, it helps when the whole Lille defense is yawning and stretching right after kickoff, far too secure in their knowledge that surely PSG wouldn’t try something so audacious in just eight seconds. But there’s only a few who would even think of such a thing. Sure, it’s Ligue 1, but sometimes you have to enjoy that it gives two of the best in the world in Messi and Mbappe such a platform to do playground shit.
And then there’s this pass from Kevin De Bruyne:
The Belgian takes out more than half the Newcastle team with one pass through a forest in a channel that wouldn’t be described as much more than a pubic hair’s width. You would be tempted to say Newcastle gave De Bruyne too much time to find this pass, but he can do this from any range and you can only follow him out so far. Think of it as trying to guard Steph, he’ll only step back a couple more feet and still make it rain on you. I don’t think there’s anything that gets me out of my seat quicker in soccer or hockey or basketball than a player finding a pass like this that we couldn’t see from our crow’s nest through the television camera. It feels like you’re watching someone, for just a second, channel something celestial, as if a muse tapped them for that moment to do something beyond the scope. Like you’re getting a brief glimpse of a better world.